by HANNAH SMOTHERSRUBEN CHAMORRO
There are a lot of ways to fight period cramps when they inevitably present themselves. If taking ibuprofen isn't your jam, you can do other, more ~natural~ things, like roast underneath a heating pad or explore acupuncture. But if you have lofty dreams of a world in which you never get cramps that need fighting off, there's even more you can do to prevent them from striking in the first place.
Dr. Rebecca Brightman, an ob-gyn in New York, explains that prevention is all about the long game. Instead of waiting until your uterus feels like it's on fire to do something about cramps, Brightman says there are a few little things you can do all month long to make them less bad. Godspeed.
KEEP THE ENDORPHINS FLOWING.
As Brightman explains, a lot of people feel really sluggish and tired before their period starts and when cramps are at their worst. Which is a bummer, because cardio exercise— like jogging, biking, or swimming — releases something called "beta-endorphins," or chemicals in the body that have been shown to reduce period cramp pain.
So instead of waiting until strapping on some sneakers sounds like the absolute worst idea in the world, maintain a regular exercise schedule all month long. Brightman says this should include a mix of endorphin-pumping cardio, as well as calmer workouts like stretchy, restorative yoga — particularly if you're someone who feels cramps in your lower back.
WATCH YOUR STRESS LEVELS.
Sorry, I'm SORRY, because I know "try to remain calm" is always the lamest advice ever. But it has merit. Brightman mentions the very real, scientifically understoodassociation between stress and pain or, in this case, stress and the severity of period cramps.
"We know that stress worsens pain perception," Brightman says, adding that, for this reason, exercise is even more important. Light cardio can help keep stress levels at bay, as can yoga. Basically, anything that gets your body moving and mind on something other than ... everything else.
EAT SOMETHING RESEMBLING A BALANCED DIET.
This doesn't mean, "cut out carbs" or, "don't drink any coffee." It just means, you know, incorporating a few vegetables, some lean protein, some fruit, and lots of water in your diet. Brightman says this helps keep your blood sugar stable and generally helps your bodily functions operate smoothly.
Some doctors might you to avoid coffee on your period, because it may increase cramping or make other symptoms, like sore breasts, worse. But Brightman says if you're someone who loves it, needs it, and can't go through your morning without it, don't make yourself even more miserable by cutting it out of your diet. The effect the caffeine has on your cramps is minimal at most, she says, unless you're drinking eight cups a day — in which case, stop that.
TRACK YOUR CYCLE.
If you're going to take medication to reduce cramps, Brightman says the best time to do so is before they even start. And the kind you take is key. Brightman says non-steroidal anti inflammatories, or NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen, are best equipped at preventing and fighting back period cramps.
The little chemical demons that cause your cramps (and, if you're familiar, your period poop) are called prostaglandins. The body releases these to get your uterus to contract and start shedding its lining, AKA your period. But while effective, prostaglandins aren't very smart. They tend to attack the whole pelvic region — not just your uterus — which results in the pain (and yes, the aforementioned poop).
"[Non-steroidals] interfere with the production of prostaglandins," Brightman says. "If you can interfere with some of the prostaglandin production, you can minimize the cramping."
Brightman assures the prostaglandin interference won't cut your period short or make bleeding stop altogether. If it works properly, and you take it ahead of time and not on am empty stomach, an NSAID simply can keep cramps at bay — especially if you know when you can expect them to start, and take the medication early.